5-Word 365 #224 – Murderball

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Olympics are on. At least they are while I’m writing this. I understand they’ll be over in a couple of days. Anyway, between my day job, getting to my day job, and doing these columns every day I have managed to watch a grand total of jack shit from London. To make up for that, I figured I’d go for an appropriately topical documentary this week.


Badasses on wheels: The Movie

A film about the sport of wheelchair rugby in general, and the players of Team USA in particular, in the build-up to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. Excitement, tears and sex ed. tapes ensue.

Created in 1977 in Canada, the sport now known as wheelchair rugby (or quad rugby in USA) was originally called murderball. It was changed because, as Mark Zupan says during the film, it’s not easy to market “murderball” to corporate sponsors. The sport is probably best described as a cross between rugby and basketball, in dodgems, played by competitors with impairment in at least three limbs. For the players featured in the movie this means everything from childhood illness to car accidents to punch-ups.

Watching Murderball, you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be a scripted drama, since it hits just about every sports movie trope you can think of. The big one is the rivalry between USA and Canada. USA – led by Zupan, the breakout star of the film – doesn’t like Canada because Canada is coached by Joe Soares, who used to play in the USA team but was cut when he couldn’t keep up the pace as he got older. It’s not an understatement to say that he didn’t take it well. Co-directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro split the film between both sides, giving an unflinching look into the personal and sporting lives of Soares and his family to the north of the border and the USA players to the south.

“Hey! It’s the Goodyear blimp!”

The movie isn’t just about the matches and the rivalries though. It also shows the sport as a way to regain some self-respect and self-reliance for someone who might have to rely on others to meet so many of their daily needs. There is a strand running through the film about Keith Cavill, a former motocross rider injured in an accident. We meet him a mere 5 months later while he is still in physical therapy and coming to terms with his injuries. Just before leaving for the Athens Games, Keith’s rehab centre is visited by Mark Zupan and Keith has a try in his rugby chair. He had previously been shown as understandably depressed about what had happened, but to see him in the rugby chair talking with Zupan is to see his new hopes for the future. The mid-credits epilogue mentions that at the time of release, Keith was saving up to buy his own specialist rugby chair.

Murderball is totally gripping from the first moment to the last. It is both hilariously funny – look out for the prank that Zupan and his teammate Bobby Lujano play on one of their support staff in Athens – and heart-wrenchingly emotional. One of the most purely entertaining docs I have watched this year, this is one of the rare films that annoy me for not having seen it before. If you haven’t seen it yet, you are missing out.

That’s Zupan on the right. He’s about to fuck Canada.

One comment

  1. todayiwatchedamovie · August 11, 2012

    1996 was the last (and first) time I cared about the Olympics…and that was because I thought the mascot was cool.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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